Robert O'Neil was an authority on First Amendment issues, writing several books and amicus curiae briefs on First Amendment cases that reached the Supreme Court. He also was the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. In this 2010 photo, he leads a discussion of the threats to academic governance posed by the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos and by subsequent lower court rulings. (Photo by Photo by Michael Ferguson, via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Robert M. O’Neil (1934-2018) an authority on First Amendment issues, was a lawyer, professor, and the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
He frequently wrote amicus curiae briefs on First Amendment cases that reached the Supreme Court.
O’Neil was born in Boston. After earning undergraduate, master’s, and law degrees from Harvard University, he clerked for Supreme Court justice William J. Brennan Jr. for the 1962–1963 term. After his clerkship, O’Neil entered academia at the University of California, Berkeley. He flourished as both professor and administrator, serving in turn as provost of the University of Cincinnati, vice president at Indiana University, and president of the University of Wisconsin.
O'Neil founded organizations that advocate for First Amendment issues
In 1985 O’Neil became the president of the University of Virginia, a position he held until 1990, when he became the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The organization, which advocates on behalf of free expression issues, has close ties to the university.
O'Neil also was the founding chairman of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, which advocates for access to public records.
O'Neil wrote several books related to the First Amendment
O’Neil has written numerous books related to the First Amendment.
Among them are:
- The First Amendment and Civil Liability (2001),
- Free Speech in the College Community (1997),
- The Rights of Public Employees: The Basic ACLU Guide to the Rights of Public Employees (1993), and
- Classrooms in the Crossfire: The Rights and Interests of Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and the Community (1981).
Throughout his academic career, O’Neil taught classes on the First Amendment. He died Sept. 30, 2018 at age 83.
This article first was published in 2009 and has been updated. The primary contributor was David L. Hudson, Jr., a professor at Belmont. It has been updated by other First Amendment Encyclopedia contributors.Send Feedback on this article